POLICE AS BAD GUYS? Choosing to See Them That Way

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on December 27, 2014

“We are the sum of what we know.”

While struggling to remain awake, and eventually pass my college Humanities class, hearing that quote during a lecture had made attending that class worthwhile, since it helps explain how each of us create such different opinions when confronted with the same series of facts. When it comes to opinions, few subjects generate more emotions than law enforcement.

Law enforcement is usually the only contact that many people have with a government entity. Unfortunately, many people fail to connect law enforcement with the rest of government. And either by design or unintended consequence, it is safe to assume that many politicians give thanks for this oversight, since it isolates those politicians from the ordinances and laws that they help pass, from the police officers who are ordered to enforce those ordinances and laws.

Citizens are aware of the enforcement of restrictive/unnecessary laws via law enforcement. However, the least-informed among us see the enforcement of those laws, but not the origins of those laws. Therefore, in the minds of those least-informed souls, law enforcement officers create the laws that they enforce.

As a whole, law enforcement has been a scapegoat for self-proclaimed community organizers, politicians who try to distance themselves from those restrictive/unnecessary laws that they are responsible for enacting, and citizens who have a distrust and/or hatred of police officers.

Between the mid-eighties and early-nineties, I have had opportunities to ride along with police officers. And just like each ride-along, no two police officers handled their job the same way. I had met officers who were burned-out and bitter, despite having only a few months of on-the-job experience. I had also known police officers who after thirty years had the same enthusiasm that they probably had on their first workday. Yes, as a result of combining personal knowledge, their police academy educations, and field training officers who have a powerful influence on new officers, every cop – just like everyone else — is the sum of his or her knowledge.

Besides the police officers, the people whom I had an opportunity to interact with were just as interesting.

Among my favorites are: the seventy-eight year-old who told an officer that he had a “right” to speed because he was a senior citizen, a guy who had painted the brake lights on his car white, so that they matched the rest of his car, an individual who told me while I waited inside a police car, while several officers responded to a domestic call inside of a trailer, “why do you harass us? We can take care of ourselves,” and a very pleasant chap who, after being pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign, yelled at the officer, “Hey! I’m workin’ for da mayor!”

Before exiting his police car in this last example, the officer had told me that he usually gives warnings for such offenses. However, this quote from the offender had earned him a ticket.

As someone who had applied for a few police officer positions after leaving college, I had the opportunity to interact with other folks who were applying as well. And just like people who are now law enforcement personnel or the “customers” whom they interact with, no two applicants are the same.

At one orientation, everyone who wanted to apply had to show a form of identification that included a photograph. Well, the person in front of me showed an officer his wife’s drivers’ license. When the officer asked him where his license was, he told her that it was suspended. When she asked this now-former applicant how he traveled to the orientation, he had told her that he had driven.

At another orientation in a local high school that attracted about four-hundred applicants, everything remained civil and organized, until the end. As the attendees drove out of the high school parking lot, there were more than a few people who showed no respect for the traffic laws that they would be expected to uphold, and no respect for the people whom they would take an oath to protect.

Out of all of the people who distrust or have nothing but hatred for police officers, how many have applied for such a job themselves, only to face rejection due to the fact that they themselves are what they despise?

Whereas that one quote in Humanities class taught me an important lesson in human nature, one word that I had learned in a Psychology class had taught me how some people choose to process the knowledge that makes them the sum of what they know: “projecting.”

Projecting is the ability for people to see their personality traits in others; those traits however, usually aren’t flattering. If those people who perceive police officers as being “power-hungry bullies” had the opportunity to hold the job of a police officer, would those people utilize the opportunity to correct whatever flaws they perceive as inherent in the job? Or, would those people become everything that they claim to hate?

The hypothetical scenario of every person filling the role of a police officer would answer many questions.

And just as most people interact with government via contact with police officers, police officers have the unenviable job of having to interact with others at the lowest points in their lives.

Members of the clergy may have the most difficult job, since they must make sense out of tragedies that do not make sense. However, it is police officers who usually are the first to respond to those tragedies that do not make sense.

Police officers may have the initial contact with grieving family members and/or friends of someone who has been lost in a horrific, evil manner. Police officers must begin the process of piecing together a tragedy. And once their job is finished, the details of that horror and evil become a part of what they know.

Would the critics or self-proclaimed enemies of police officers have the ability to compose themselves in order to perform this part of the job?

In the spirit of intellectual laziness, police officers have been categorized by their critics and opponents as everything that is wrong with humanity; a gaggle of individuals with no other purpose than to intimidate everyone outside of their clique. However, are those critics of police officers projecting their own weaknesses onto people who have willingly chosen a difficult career? Or, have those critics based their opinions on a lifetime of biased knowledge?

Image: http://smritidisaac.wordpress.com/category/box-of-rain/page/13/


Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com